Thursday, June 19, 2008

The end of the Hindu Kingdom

Nepal's official--that is, nationalistic--identity has for decades been that of "the world's only Hindu kingdom." This has created a number of odd side effects: the deliberate undercount of Buddhists and animists in the national census, for instance, because to see them as part of Nepal would undercut the narrative, and would undercut the king's power.

Indeed, the idea of Nepal itself is a creation of this sort of nationalistic idea: Nepal is the historical name for the Kathmandu Valley, not for the reach of the Himalaya nor the rough area that now comprises the nation of Nepal. The songs about Nepal's beauty and glory that litter the radio and the music tv channels were likewise mostly created and promoted to unify Nepal culturally, from around the 1950s, though many Nepalis, especially from rural areas far from the Kathmandu Valley, will tell you that the songs are "very, very old." And the beneficiary of that sort of nationalism was the focus of it: the King, the incarnation of Visnu, for the idea was that people would give up their tribal allegiances for an allegiance to the king.

So the end of the monarchy here problematic for Hindu nationalists in India who have seen the end of one of their beacons of hope, the end of the only official Hindu state. Here I farm out that analysis to CounterCurrents, as Subhash Gatade can explain the geopolitical implications far better than I can:

Any close watcher of the Nepal situation would tell you that Jaswant Singh is not alone in having and expressing a negative opinion about the developments in the newest republic which has seen the end of 250 year old monarchy and the end of the 'model Hindu Rashtra' much espoused by the Sangh Parivar organisations. In one of his recent outbursts, Mr Ashok Singhal, the International President of Vishwa Hindu Parishad is reported to have compared Jihadists and Maoists who would together bring further calamity to the tiny country.... Perhaps one needs to ask oneself why does Mr Singh feels pertrubed over the end of a regime which concentrated all power in the hands of a small caucus centred around the King which denied basic human rights to a vast majority of Hindus and which condemned the followers of the other religions to a secondary status. Whether it has to do with emergence of NCP (Maoists) as the single largest party in the new republic which has humbled all the other parties or it has to do with the emergence of the most diverse and representative parliament in the world today. Independent observers have noted that the newly elected Nepalese parliament has more than one third of women and other one third representation is from the different ethnicities and oppressed castes.
The BJP is the right-wing Indian political party, and Jaswant Singh is the former prime minister of India. The rest of the article is here.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Everyone loves the awesome-lope, Sakhu

Before I left a friend was teasing me about the Trek you see here, which is an old, low-end model called the Antelope. It's a bike I put together out of spare parts from the Bike Kitchen in SF, intending to leave here; and as I told everyone before I left, it was going to be a sweet bike for Nepal.

Which it is, so much so that whenever it's sitting around all sorts of Nepalis want to give it a ride down the alley or around a building. Age seems not to matter--there's been a 48-year-old man missing one front tooth on the bike, and very young kids, as you see here--though gender does, as only one girl (from the PA house) has gone for a spin. I've got numerous comments on how light the bike is, which is surprising since it weighs in excess of 30 lbs, though perhaps shouldn't be in the context of Nepal cycling, where--and only a few people will understand the gravity of this--the wheels on Indian bikes are missing lock nuts.

As I told my friend, it's not a Trek Antelope--it's an Awesome-lope, because it's awesome for where it's going, i.e. where it is now. The Trek brand carries a lot of prestige here, as do all the big American cycle brands, which makes sense when you're here. It's not that the same bike with decals that say "Ranger" or "Hercules MTB" would be esteemed less; it's that you could never find the same bike made by Ranger or Hercules.

Not one of these kids is in my class.

And just for reference...

Monday, June 16, 2008

The PA Nepal House, Sakhu, Nepal

I am horrible with Nepali names.

Normally I am pretty good, and when I am teaching I am usually very good--it's just that you learn tricks for names, give each connection of name to face a mnemonic based on leters or spelling or odd connections of your memory: Lucia wrote about Albany, California; Greg has a chinstrap beard; Philip's favorite bus line is the 22, but he's only been on it once. But Nepali names are unfamiliar, and while I find the simple names after Hindu gods easy--Parbati, Ram, Gautam (named after the Gautama Buddha, who Hindus have adopted as an incarnation of Vishnu) and the like--but any name less familiar in my consciousness fails to stick, or tends to. In the repair class I'm teaching at the Prisoners Assistance house up in Sakhu, forever, I can remember only the name of Jogath, who is amazingly mechanically-minded, the star pupil.

This is only to say that the name of the girl who hijacked my camera on Saturday--first as the subject matter, then in fact the camera itself, asking if she could take a picture and then putting to film everyone in the house--has a name that escapes me. She's above, on the right. Not her history, though: she's just come back to the home about a week ago, a returnee. She had been "adopted"--that is, PA took her on as a ward--when she was only a few years old and her mother was in jail. Some years later--two or three or four years ago--her father took her back, but pulled her from school and had her cleaning house, doing laundry, and working in the fields all day. He also cut off all her hair, hence the head scarf--she's embarrassed, shamed, by her hair. It was only when she began to be beaten that PA could take her back, however--Nepal doesn't guarantee schooling for anyone, and girls are still seen as having a lot less worth than boys, especially in the rural parts of the country. Even as many caste hierarchies have been overturned in the past couple of decades, and though, somehow, the current constituent assembly has a mandate for female (and third-gender) members, in many if not most families a woman only gains status when she gives birth to a son.

While she certainly charmed me--I was happy to encourage her to take pictures, as long as she treated the camera respectfully, which she did--I later found out (from Indira, who the kids call Amma, the director extraordinaire of PA Nepal) that she's had a hard transition back. Those scratches on her face are from a fight with another girl, and she's been disruptive in school. All unsurprising, of course; but also a much more complex story than I knew or understood when I let her take the camera. A good reminder, perhaps, that in the environment at the PA home there's always a back story.

Some of her pictures:

Added June 22, 2008: Her name, it turns out, is Sushma.